Lean and mean: Why some of Kentucky football's defensive line cut weight for 2022 season

Brooks Holton
Louisville Courier Journal

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky's Octavious Oxendine claims to make a mean chicken Alfredo.

Unfortunately for the pasta-loving defensive lineman, his favorite dish has been taken off the menu while he prepares for another season in the trenches with the Wildcats.

"I had to cut out stuff like that," said Oxendine, who began fall camp Wednesday weighing 281 pounds after checking in at 318 last year.

Oxendine said his weight loss journey began during the 2021 season. The junior from Radcliff continued to press toward his goal while rehabbing a knee injury that sidelined him for UK's final seven games.

"I feel faster," Oxendine said, "so I'm gonna stay where I'm at."

Kentucky's Octavious Oxendine celebrates after a Wildcat stop against Florida in the first half Saturday night at Kroger Field in Lexington. Oct. 2, 2021

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Defensive coordinator Brad White has certainly noticed a difference, too.

When he addressed the media Wednesday, White praised Oxendine's improved explosiveness and the perseverance he demonstrated through the rehab process. He said the lineman's physical transformation has set him up to be one of the leaders of the Wildcats' only defensive position group that did not return a senior or graduate student this season.

"His weight is down, but he looks stronger," White said. "He's looser than he's ever been in the past. He's a guy that's brimming with confidence."

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Oxendine wasn't the only member of Kentucky's defensive front to slim down this offseason. Even with four of the Wildcats' 10 returning linemen bulking up, their average weight dropped from 288 pounds last fall to 284 pounds heading into camp.

"With this group being young, we all agreed to lose weight and get in (the) best shape as possible," said junior Josaih Hayes, who cited cutting back on Cookout's Ranch Wraps and other fast-food as one of the biggest reasons he went from 314 pounds last season to 309 pounds as of Aug. 1.

"It's gonna be a long SEC season, and (our) goal is to get to Atlanta, so that's the best way to do it."

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Oxendine, Hayes and company have a tall task ahead of them: replacing second-round NFL draft pick Josh Paschal, who at 278 pounds led UK's defensive line last fall with 53 tackles, 15 1/2 tackles for loss and 5 1/2 sacks.

One step toward that goal, White said, was prioritizing weight management during offseason strength training. Foreseeing a more rotation-based approach to manning the trenches this fall, the defensive coordinator wants his linemen to be capable of playing every gap assignment so they can spell one another without missing a beat.

"Sometimes, just weight alone is not good," White said. "It's too heavy for your legs. You can't play fast; you can't play explosive. I think guys have leaned out a little bit. They're as strong as they were ... but I think they're more powerful. They're more explosive. Guys have been putting up really good numbers in the weight room from a testing standpoint, so I'm excited about that.

"Maybe we don't have the headliners that we've had in the past up there, but I think we can go deeper into the rotation than we've been able to in the past."

Kentucky defensive lineman Josaih Hayes, right, reacts after recovering a fumble during the Wildcats' game against LSU on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Lexington, Ky.

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In addition to White, UK's returning linemen have made an impression on another defensive leader: DeAndre Square. A self-described "on-the-field coach," the super-senior linebacker said he noticed Hayes's work ethic as a member of his offseason training group. Oxendine, meanwhile, received some praise for the leadership he displayed during the Wildcats' spring practices.

"They definitely earned my trust," Square said. "I trust that they are here to win."

Reach recruiting and trending sports reporter Brooks Holton at bholton@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter at @brooksHolton.